Hot potato is an old favourite with kids and a fun game for kids’ parties. Playing this game will also help children develop their motor skills and social abilities.
4 – 10 years
Duration of activity
About 10 minutes.
- A group of children- the more children there are, the longer the game will last.
- A foil-wrapped ‘hot potato’ to give the winning child, for example a ball. Depending on the children’s age, different types of balls will be more or less appropriate for their stage of motor skill development- a squishy ball or bean bag is great for younger children; for older children you could use a small bouncy ball.
- Music and a music player- choose songs your children love or let them choose the music.
- You can find small presents like a ball to wrap in aluminium foil for $1 or less at a variety shop.
- Make sure the music player is set up in a location where the children will be able to hear it properly. It will also need to be easy for you or another adult to turn on or off regularly as you play the game.
What to do
- The children need to stand in a circle to play hot potato. Depending on their age they may need to be close enough to each other so that they can pass the hot potato to each other, or far enough away so that they need to throw it.
- When all the children are in the circle, show them the foil-wrapped ball or present. Explain to the children, they’re pretending it’s a hot potato and that it’s too hot to touch and will burn their hands if they hold onto it for too long.
- Next explain how the game is played- it’s good to provide all the instructions before you start playing, even if some of the children have played before:
- To play the game the children must throw the hot potato around until it cools down enough to eat. Tell them that inside the foil there is not really a potato so they won’t be eating it, but there is something special. When it cools down enough one child will win it and be able to play with the special thing inside.
- When the music starts they need to throw the hot potato to the next child. Whenever the music is playing they need to catch the hot potato if it is thrown to them, then quickly throw it to the next child to prevent their hands from being burnt.
- When the music stops, the child with the hot potato in their hand should hold onto it. Unfortunately that will mean they get burnt. Each time the music stops one child will get burnt and they will leave the circle for the rest of the game. The other children continue playing.
- When there is only one child left, they win the game and unwrap the hot potato to find their prize.
- After explaining the game, give one child the hot potato. Start playing the music and check that the child throws the hot potato to the next child- you may need to tell them what to do again the first couple of times if they have never played before.
- Wait for the hot potato to be thrown to several children then turn the music off
- Whichever child is holding the potato gets burnt- ask them to leave the circle. They will watch the other children for the rest of the game.
- Press play again and continue turning the music on and off and asking the child holding the potato to step out until only one child remains in the circle.
- Tell the last remaining child that their prize for playing so well is the hot potato. Now it has cooled down and they can open it up and see what’s inside.
- Hot potato is also a great game to play at parties when it’s time for hand washing. See the hot potato with soap variation.
- Toddlers and younger children will still be developing the motor skills they need to throw and catch. This game will work better if the children pass the soap instead of throwing it.
- Pre-schoolers will be able to catch big soft things, but they won’t yet have the motor skills to catch small bouncy balls. Use a soft ball that doesn’t bounce much and is bigger than a tennis ball for this age group.
- Parties are exciting times for children and throwing and catching can get out of hand. Supervise children at all times to ensure they throw the hot potato underarm.
Communication and language skills
Children learn so much about communication by talking to others and experimenting with language in different situations. For pre-schoolers everyday acts like talking to their peers and listening to and following instructions are amongst the best things they can do to develop their communication skills. Children will learn more when adults speak to them in simple sentences- but remember what is simple changes rapidly at this age, so what it’s appropriate to say will differ, depending on the words and grammar your children already know. Providing children opportunities to practice new words and to experiment with them, for example by combining them with other words in sentences is another great way to develop children’s communication and language skills. Older children will have a more extensive vocabulary and will be able to pronounce words properly and speak in proper sentences, whereas younger children and toddlers will still have difficulty getting some sounds out correctly and use a limited range of words. For example they won’t yet know how to combine words with other words (e.g. they may point and simply say ‘potato’ rather than saying something like, ‘the potato we are throwing’). Children will also get better at understanding and following instructions as they grow older.
Social and emotional development
Group play is a great way for children to increase their awareness of the other people around them and become aware that they are part of a big community (whereas early on their world will revolve around their immediate family). They’ll also learn a thing or two about proper social behaviour and how to control their emotions playing the hot potato game and following the instructions. For example it will help them develop self-control, and learn how to express their emotions in healthy ways. They will probably feel a bit disappointed if they get ‘burnt’ and have to leave the circle. However having to cope with a small disappointment like getting ‘out’ provides an opportunity for them to practice expressing their disappointment in a controlled way, for example by telling others they are disappointed rather than crying. Understanding that there is only one winner and it cannot always be them will help them understand sharing, as will throwing or passing around the hot potato.
Children will improve both gross (the skills needed to control the big muscles that work their arms and legs) and fine motor skills (those need to coordinate the movements of their fingers) while playing the hot potato party game. Throwing is a great way to develop and train the muscles in their arms. When they catch they’ll be using both their arms and their fingers and developing the muscles that work them. By 3-5 years of age children will be able to throw and catch big balls and beanbags (although their throws will probably be a bit wayward and don’t be surprised if they drop the hot potato a few times). At this age using soft ball or bean bag will be easier. Older children will have far more developed motor skills- a small potato will be more challenging for them.
- Abraham K, Curriculum ideas for exploring handwashing. 2005. (cited 16 March 2014). Available from: www.units4teachers.com/PDF/handwashing.pdf
- South Australian Health Infection Prevention and Control. Hand Hygiene Guideline. 2010. (cited 19 January 2014). Available from: (URL Link)
- Virginia Early Childhood Development Alignment Program. Milestones of child development- A guide to young children’s learning and development from birth to kindergarten. 2009. (cited 26 July 2013). Available from: (URL Link)